Peace Corps Volunteers Share Their Stories

Boston College Peace Corps recruiter and returned volunteer Lori Dunn, along with three BC graduate return volunteers, gave a presentation on the benefits of joining the Peace Corps has in the workplace and beyond.

The event was part of the ninth annual International Education Week (IEW), an opportunity for students to learn about and celebrate global knowledge and experiences. It was sponsored by the Career Center, Office of International Programs (OIP), and Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS).

The presentation began with a brief history of the Peace Corps. The volunteer program was started in 1961 by then-president John F. Kennedy in order to provide socio-economic support to underdeveloped and developing countries. Volunteers are American citizens, typically with a college degree, who are placed for two years at a site that best matches their skill set.

Dunn outlined three main goals of the organization: to send U.S. citizens with specific skill sets to communities in need of help, to bring U.S. culture abroad and teach it in the best way possible, and to bring the host country culture home.

The panelists, all three of which are returned volunteers studying at BC, included Kevin O’Brien, a student in the Graduate School of Social Work; Naomi Eshleman, a student in the Lynch Higher Education Program; and Brodie Henry, a student application and technology specialist in the OISS.

Dunn herself volunteered with the Peace Corps from October 2009 to December 2011 in Gakh, Azerbaijan as a community development specialist, where she promoted diversity through large and small-scale cultural exchange events.

The panel began by highlighting the way the volunteers were changed as a result of their service.

“Just being able to figure out what the right questions to ask might be, and being willing to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers,” O’Brien said. “I think a lot of times Americans just charge right through things. Peace Corps volunteers often learn that maybe it’s best to wait a little bit, ask some questions, see who’s already working in that area.”

O’Brien served in Mozambique as a health volunteer from 2015 to 2018. The duration of placements are typically two years, but he decided to extend his stay for another year since the experience affected him so much.

The panelists also discussed adjusting to life in the host countries, and the intercultural competency afforded by the unique exchange of cultures offered through the program.

“I learned so much about the U.S. by being in Mozambique through volunteers, through questions that Mozambiquens would ask me that I would never have thought about in a certain way,” O’Brien said. “It really was eye-opening to me in terms of the similarities and in terms of how much we have in common, even a half a world away.”

The panelists finished by talking about the benefits that experience with the Peace Corps afforded them in the job-searching process once returning to the United States.

Henry, who served in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan from 2010 to 2011 in the youth development sector at a university, stated that he was able to connect with potential employers through shared experience in the Peace Corps, a connection that Dunn described as “vital.”

“I am brought into so many offices for conversations because they are fascinated by the stories I tell, the experiences I have, even the way I communicate,” Dunn said. “Because when you sit around humans beings and talk to them, rather than thinking about what you can get out of them—only a program that lasts for two years can really afford you to take that step back.

Eshleman, who volunteered in Queenstown, Guyana from 2014 to 2016 as a community education promoter, similarly stated that her experience with the Peace Corps was essential in the interview process and landing a job upon returning to the United States.

“I have this position now that is paying for my tuition, which speaks for possibility, speaks for openness, speaks for an interest in other people,” Eshleman said. “Like Lori was saying, the ability to just sit and listen to someone. So many jobs want you to be able to connect to others on a deeper level.”

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